The Office’s Jim and Pam—and the case for taking relationships slow

Everybody who’s anybody knows that nothing goes together better than PB & J, Pam Beesly and Jim (Halpert), that is. Although it was agonizing watching Jim take roughly three seasons of The Office to finally ask Pam out on their first date, it did make for some really good television. Plus, it served up some insightful relationship guidance. Jim and Pam truly mastered the art of taking things (sometimes painfully) slow — something we instant gratification, right-and-left-swiping Tinder millennials seem incapable of grasping. We want relationships/hookups/connections fast and we want them now. But I urge you to metaphorically stop, drop, and roll with me on this one. However fictional Jim and Pam may be, the relationship that they cultivated was one that every Office fan lusted after. Their story line kept us hooked because it took its sweet time. It wasn’t quick and easy. It was steady and complex. Like Jim and Pam, I think we should take it slow IRL.

I’m definitely projecting, but I rushed into everything in my first serious adult relationship, and it ended us. Lost in our spontaneity and deep affection for each other, my ex-girlfriend and I moved in together after six short months of dating. She was literally an arm’s length away so I took her for granted. We never had an opportunity to actually miss each other—how ironically unromantic. Instead of making us closer this constant access created a deep wedge in our relationship. We fast tracked the romance, cutting corners left and right, and, inevitably, the consequences of our hastiness roundhouse kicked us both in the face. If only I had paused and seriously asked myself, “What would Jim and Pam do?” Now that I’ve lived and learned the answers, I’d like to share them with you.

Getting to know a potential mate as a friend first isn’t overrated. Jim and Pam were friends long, long before they officially started dating. Turns out when the stakes aren’t so high, (as if a few dates will reveal the soul mate status of the person chowing down a vegan burrito across the table), you can just get to know someone without any expectations. And if you hit it off, you hit if off. If you don’t, you’re either one friend deeper, or you went out on a limb and had a potentially interesting encounter. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Because Jim knew that Pam was with Roy, he and Pam had the ability and the permission to simply get to know one another. Early on, Jim’s version of a good day was Pam accidentally falling asleep on his shoulder during one of Michael’s many conference room meetings. Keeping things friendly in the beginning just seems like a path to longevity.

It’s cool that you’re in love with your boyfriend/girlfriend. But you should be “in like” with them too. Loving your partner is crucial, but so is actually liking them. The only litmus test to decipher the likeability of a stranger is spending time getting to know them, intricately. If you observe what your partner is like in every messy, joyful life scenario — through a job promotion or when they’ve had too much tequila at a Chili’s or after your boss sleeps with your partner’s mother — you’ll have a better idea if you can be “in like” with all versions of him or her. Those many nuanced moments take time to avail themselves as you date. Through the course of the show, Jim and Pam literally survive every wacky obstacle that comes their way—whether it’s a dysfunctional dinner party at Michael and Jan’s, or Pam failing art school—they witness each other’s best and worst selves. But, at the end of the day Jim and Pam really like each other. So, no matter how hard it is, they stick it out. (That’s what she said!)

Unless you are ready to buy a house for someone, maybe you shouldn’t cohabitate. Jim bought Pam a house — a house! Granted, it was his childhood home complete with a creepy clown painting and seventies red shag carpet, but he had already proposed to Pam. Jim was deeply committed to building a future with her. If you’re not ready to propose, try to avoid the stereotypical lesbian “urge to merge.” Instead, invent creative ways to emotionally invest in your boyfriend or girlfriend. There are so many alternatives to actively show that you are serious and committed to your significant other that aren’t so financially binding. Besides, I’m wary of any relationship (romantic or otherwise) in which one must constantly have to prove one’s devotion. Save the grand gestures — they happen infrequently and are mostly theatrics. Actively showing your gratitude day to day for your guy or your lady is a practice. If you can be swept off your feet with cold grilled cheeses on the roof of Dunder Mifflin complete with a slightly psychotic Dwight and Kevin firework show, then you’re probably moving at a solid pace.

Sometimes you have to let love go (or give it space) in order to get it back again. Not only did Jim wait out the whole Pam and Roy fiasco, but when Pam got accepted to art school and had to leave Scranton for New York, Jim was adamant that Pam go. They had finally begun dating – finally – and instead of clinging selfishly to her out of fear of losing Jim told Pam that she absolutely had to go. They didn’t impale themselves on each other. They actually distanced themselves. And it strengthened their resolve to be together. Sometimes you have to take risks to reap the rewards.

Don’t settle for a Roy, just be a single Pam. Pre-Jim and Pam heaven there was eternal Pam and Roy limbo. Pam was engaged to Roy for three years. A three-year engagement with no wedding date in sight isn’t taking it slow, it’s taking it nowhere. Roy was never fully committed to either Pam or the wedding nuptials. Pam was so set (as many of us are) on getting all of the ducks in a tidy, boring row that who she was tethering herself to almost became secondary. We get so invested in the big life events — the moving in, adopting the dog, planning the wedding, having a small football team of genetically like minded offspring — that we can totally lose sight of our partner or the reason we started all of this in the first place. Jim and Pam made up everything as they went. Their “big life choices” were born out of choosing each other. They didn’t become a couple just to have those ducks. Don’t stay with a Roy for the sole purpose of proclaiming that you have a fiancé or a live-in boyfriend or a special someone.

For three plus years a salesman and a receptionist sat ten feet from each other and then one fateful day Jim put a ring on it. Every major life event that Jim and Pam shared on The Office was earned — that’s why, as viewers, we laughed and we cried with them when they got engaged at a gas station in the pouring rain and again when they snuck off in the Niagara Falls mist to marry each other. They had actually worked to arrive at those pivotal moments. Nothing was rushed, and therefore nothing was sloppy or half-hearted. We knew that Jim and Pam’s connection was irrefutably real because we had seen it evolve every step of the way. Yes, Jim bought Pam’s engagement ring only one week after dating her, but he carried it around in his pocket and waited when it finally felt right to pop the age-old question.

By all means move at a glacial pace! Do it. Deliberately take your time. Don’t feel pressured by society’s preordained timelines. There is no appropriate chronological age at which to make these huge life decisions. Everyone’s path to his or her person (or persons) is inherently different. Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses or the Smiths or the Sopranos. But if you must keep up with one dream team couple, try to keep up with the Halperts.

(Image via NBC)